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Couple Took Timeout From America : Peace Corps Veterans Recall Guatemala Experience

November 15, 1987|Associated Press

FREEBURG, Ill. — Mary Ann and Dale David were high school sweethearts in the '60s. Their friends and families expected them to go to college, marry and settle down nearby.

That was before they heard about the Peace Corps, in 1966.

"We took the test (to join) in April, got married in June. I was in my second year of teaching," said Mary Ann, 21 at the time and now 42. Dale, also now 42, still had one more year of college.

The next spring, the newlyweds found themselves in the remote village of Salinas, Guatemala.

It was no honeymoon retreat.

Housing was at a premium, but the village people offered temporary use of the only living quarters available--the local jail.

"We lived there for about two weeks. It was the size of our bathroom," Dale said. "We had a room, no window, and a door." And no way to feel secure, except to reach through the bars in the door and lock it from the outside.

"Since we couldn't speak Spanish, our greatest fear was dropping the key and not being able to ask them to pick it up for us," Mary Ann said and laughed.

From the jail, they moved into a palm-roofed shack made of concrete blocks. It had a dirt floor. Luxury was having their own well dug for them. The couple's job description was "rural community development." That meant whatever they wanted it to.

"We did a lot of tutoring. We worked very hard to get a teacher there. We had to promise to build a school to get a teacher. And we did," Mary Ann said.

"What we did was promote ourselves and our country down there," Dale said. "That was one of the goals of the Peace Corps then."

And it was only natural that they would become friends with the people. "Sometimes, it bordered on surrogate parents," he said. "There's no difference in people. They worried about their kids, just like I worry about mine now."

The Davids have a 17-year-old daughter, Julie, and a 16-year-old son, Dale Jr.

Boredom was a problem in Guatemala, but Mary Ann, a liberated American woman, saw an opportunity to alleviate that and enlighten women there. She organized a women's basketball team that played during the half-times at Sunday soccer games.

"It caught on like wildfire," her husband said proudly.

"It is not something we have talked a lot about (to others), but I wouldn't have traded our experience for anything. It gave us a broader sense of the world," Mary Ann said.

"We went from a 20th-Century society to one from the 1600s," Dale added.

"When we first came home, I gave lots of talks to groups and clubs," Mary Ann said. "We were unique. That was a time when everybody wanted to know about the Peace Corps."

Yet, she said, "there was this gap when we got back. Our friends went ahead with their lives while we were gone. We would go to these cocktail parties, and we found it was hard to relate. People were very materialistic."

The Davids now run David Hauling Co. with Dale's father, Ralph. They said they wouldn't mind returning to Guatemala, but don't believe that it is safe for Americans now. Nonetheless, the old ties still stretch across the miles.

"We hear now they've paved a road to the village and there's some semblance of electricity," Dale said. The basketball team no longer exists, but "we still get wonderful letters from the girls," Mary Ann said.

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